The character of God is love, generosity, kindness, mercy, goodness, holiness. It makes sense to say if we are in Him and He is in us that we would begin to display these same kinds of characteristics. I think religion somehow pulls us out of that truth. It makes being a Christian an academic pursuit with performance as a goal instead of restored relationship with God resulting in actual character traits being changed. Similar to learning how to test well in school by memorizing the answers without understanding the subject.
I/we need to be restored to humanity as God intended. With the character traits of our heavenly Father in place.
Character defines behavior. It is true that we are not perfected in this divine character yet but we should be seeing signs of this transformation in our lives. The fruitful effect of time spent with God, Him rubbing off on us.
“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
James 2:14-17 MSG
Wanting our own way. 1st Corinthians 10: 6-12
The ancient Israelites saw miracles, were set free from slavery and all their physical needs were met. They saw God’s wonder and grace. Yet they failed. A surprise to God, I doubt it. It is a picture of who we are most of the time. Paul says it can happen to us just as easily as it did them.
The warning: “be on guard”… against what? Wanting our own way!
Wanting our own way is our cultural norm! Our culture is saturated with wanting our own way.
Being “on guard” … that’s a militaristic term. Standing ready, alert, prepared. Weapon out of the holster. Not asleep at the wheel.
Not wanting our own way…. This teaching is counter intuitive. We all want our way. Pain-free if possible. Well fed, well rested, well healed, well respected, etc. Wanting someone else’s way doesn’t even sound right. Unless that is what we were really designed to do and don’t know it.
Actually wanting “God’s way” in my life means I half to believe he has my best interest at heart, and that he has the desire to make my life better then I can make it on my own. We say: Father, your will be done, not my will be done.
This is directly opposed to my personal rebellion!
My Rebellion says: “my way” or you will be punished to some varying degree. With a child, it looks like a tantrum! The same is true of all of us (adults) at sometime or another. Tantrums abound.
Narcissism is defined as “excessive self interest”. We are to “guard our hearts” against such self interest. But there is a good self interest. In essence, surrender to God is the ultimate self interest. For he has our best interest always at heart, but with the clearest perspective of our life. Similar to that of a good parent to child.
When that healthy relationship is in place, We cry Abba father. We are to guard against narcissism and push past this rebellion to surrender to him who loves us, who died for us, and lives for us, who will live with us!
Paul was calling us to “excessive God interest”, a kind of “holy narcissism”.
For several years now, weather permitting I try to take Good Friday off from work and break the rhythm of normal daily living. My favorite way to do this is to find a woods somewhere and hike a little. I look for a decent place to set and read the bible account of Jesus last days coming up to and including the crucifixion.
I am following the example Jesus gave us when He would often leave His disciples, family and ministry behind and go off and find a deserted place to talk to God in solitude. Most often, I look for places that are nearly void of human construction. Just nature. Although a well placed bench is always a plus.
This year I hiked a 3.3 mile trail in Lawless park near Jones Michigan. The weather was nearly perfect. Just cold enough to discourage any other hikers from doing the same thing. I saw only one man with a pair of collies. There was a pair of Cranes who’s trumpeting sounded pre-historic as it echoed through the woods and added a little drama to the walk. Nearing the end of my walk, I came across a little area that had a cabin and some picnic shelters and fire pits. It was a little like wandering into a village and no ones home.
I did not come away from my time alone with God with any stone tablets or conscience revelation, but I did have a solid sense that I had chosen to spend time alone with Him. What He’s does with it, I am not always sure. I am sure of this, there are some things that God wants to give us personally. We take these gifts directly from His hand when we chose to spend time alone with Him.
Luke 5:16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
On the way to Jerusalem ….
In Matthew 20:17 .. Jesus sets his disciples down just off to the side of the road and with great detail tells them what is about to happen to him in the city. Mocking, torture and crucifixion. Shortly thereafter the mother of the Zebedee brothers approaches Jesus with a request to promote her boys to the highest ranking office in his coming kingdom.
It would be like me walking up to my children and saying: I’m on Fire ! and there response being : What are you making me for lunch ?
This is a very clear picture for much of the disguised human condition. Its insanity and by definition an unknown condition to those infected with the disease.
As all the disciples grapple for position, it’s clear that this seems completely normal to them. It’s the world they live in.
In our own culture today, we give tribute to selflessness and sacrifice in books and movies and give out awards of all kinds for extraordinarily unselfish behavior. But somehow this unselfish characteristic seems like it’s for some of those ” special” people. The talented, generous and gifted. But not for me. I don’t think i’m alone in feeling this way. In this picture the power of self importance was able to rise up right in the middle of a close friends disclosure of eminent and immediate mortality.
Jesus is not surprised. He tells them they don’t know what they are asking for…. referring to the specific honor they are requesting. He then moves forward quickly to show them the contrasting perspective.
For me, this is the ah hah moment : It’s crucial that we see ourselves in a “real” light. As painful as that is. Awareness of our own reality is the first step toward sanity. It destroys our pride and breaks our heart and …. we avoid this at nearly all cost.
Jesus has to resort to reminding them of the way godless rulers misuse power and how quickly even the smallest amount of power goes to their heads. ( as true today as then ) He has to teach them using these examples because he knows that they cannot be confronted directly for their own craving for importance. Direct confrontation results in defensiveness and nearly always ends in relational damage of some kind. The disciples are left to come to their life altering conclusions with a picture of correct Godly characteristics to be exhibited in Kingdom life. This is extremely patient. This is a beautifully painted picture, and Jesus is the artist. God’s way : Become a servant.
When I look at how I fit into this story, I am a bit shaken. I have had a history of service orientation, especially as it relates to organized church. There is a paradox here. I was serving out of impaired motives and yet it was in the midst of serving that I was in contact with other Christ followers that had begun their own journeys out of self centeredness. In recent years I have come to understand even more that my motives were far from selfless. Sparing everyone the details of my painful childhood I can safely jump forward to confessing that I had become a self-important, type A driver, image manager with all the baggage that comes in tow with it. I am pretty sure I was unaware of my condition and was able to defend my position fiercely. Not unlike the bros Zebedee and the other disciples.
As awareness of my “condition” grew I experienced a good deal of fear and internal pressure. If I give up my need to feel important, what will be left? What if my own broken soul hates feeling small and insignificant. My identity was completely wrapped up in my need to be important and my self perception of superiority. The “condition” was given a name when I read a book by Brennan Manning called: Abba’s Child. He called it ” The Imposter”. When I read of Brennan’s coming aware, it was like l was reading my own life story.
The bros Zebedee made their move, the other guys were furious.. they proclaimed .. “line jumpers”! They cut in line.. with their Momma’s help. They asked “the boss over to dinner”… fill in the blank.. ______________.. foul play …
Serving was a powerful mechanism I used to make myself feel important. It worked pretty well in many ways but had very costly consequences on a lot of relationships. Now I am more “motive-aware” but its a fight. Without self-importance as a motivator I have to ask the real question. What does God want me to do? This question presumes that I have a close enough relationship to ask the question and hear the answer. This has become of prime importance to me. Is this not what Jesus was talking about when He said : “Man shall not live by bread alone.. but by every word that is spoken by God!” Wether it be the written word or the word of God whispered to your heart. Jesus said: ”I only say what the Father tells me to say and I only do what the Father tells me to do.” Obedience is an act of love and a throttle control. There is plenty of work to do and lots of instruction about what that work looks like, see Matthew 25. But it appears to me the intimate relationship with God has to come first.. and foremost. Jesus modeled this behavior as well as taught about it. He would regularly leave all human relationships and service opportunities behind and go off to be with God by himself. In solitude. Jesus also stressed knowing the scriptures. It’s a spirit lead life we are to lead. Hearing and doing what the Father says. The answer and antidote for self-importance becomes awareness of who God says we are. We are His children. We are loved, even in our present self centered state.
This can sound kinda mystical .. “Hearing from God ” but its what what we are called too. I think it starts with those prayers in the closet Jesus talked about. In front of no one, serving no one. Just communing with God. I think it’s there where we learn to hear His voice and His true call to serve.
For me, I hear His voice say : “Love Me. Love yourself. Love the next person I put in front of you. Keep doing that”.
Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, “Good. If GOD says so, it’s good.” Within himself he was thinking, “But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime. I’ll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live.” (Isaiah 39:8 MSG)
Isaiah had just told “Heze” that some pretty terrible things were going to happen in the future to his kingdom and his family.
“Within Himself”… Here is where a good deal of our problems lie. To see it so graphically here makes me shudder a bit, for this is the way most of humanity operates. It’s displayed in nearly every form of news media availble.. 24/7.
Unfortunately I recognize this same kind of wrong thinking within myself at times. The self centered .. ” I’ll be fine as long as I have mine ” mindset. Just plain ugly!
The realization drives me to prayer: Oh Father, only You can root this out of me ( and the rest of my human-kind family). I don’t have the tools to extract this kind of deeply twisted thinking from my soul and mind. I do draw comfort from knowing these kinds of thoughts are clearly in God’s view. Nothing is hidden from Him. If I were not aware of that fact then I am afraid the problem would be even more desperate.
Paul identifies this same issue in this famous passage:
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:24-25 MSG)
This is wonderfully good news. If we are honest with oursleves, we “within oursleves” consciously or unconsciously have some pretty ugly junk floating around in there. Having access to Jesus through prayer, starts with exposing the junk and bringing it in truth to Him for healing. It’s what He does and who He is. It is a fact that being able to recognize the diseased thinking is a gift from Him in the first place. Even though it wont feel like it.
“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG)
Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. (Matthew 1:24, 25 MSG)
Joseph woke up ! He had heard from God ( through a messenger )… in the midst of the chaos.. he has clarity and perspective giving him wisdom and understanding. The results: confidence to move, to act even in the face of turmoil..
As Christ followers we have this same kind of ” God direction ” living in us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is giving us direction and comfort with the same results: wisdom and understanding.. and the perspective we need to proceed through the chaos. We can have hope and confidence because of The Holy Spirits leading.
How do you hear from God like that ? Time… spending time in heartfelt prayer.. talking to God like the best father you can imagine.. and listening.. for a good long while… He whispers to us.. in what He calls “His still small voice “. These are lost practices in the ” modern church ” but vital to a life of Godly wisdom and understanding. Next is extended time with a bible in your hands.. searching for God in the stories.. He will reveal Himself there.. and you will be blown away.
Sure, Joseph was ” freaked” ! but he was not paralyzed. He moved ! So can we.
Is there ever a time that change does not feel like chaos? I don’t think so.
Matthew … a hated tax collector / traitor turned Christ follower is writing his version of the story of Jesus starting with a family history.
Matthew chapter 1: Lots of normal people.. lots of liars, cheaters, stealers, murders, prostitutes, adulterers.. etc. Kingdoms get built.. Kingdoms get destroyed.. It reminds me of the children’s little dance .. “ and they all fall down”.
The story of Jesus’s birth is packed full of mystery and chaos.
I guess there are two ways to look at this. It really is just chaos.. or it’s a plan. I’m going with plan. The reason is in part because of all of the prophecies that point to this exact scenario. The complexity of the plan is certainly mind boggling. Unraveling the prophecies requires a theological degree. Buts it’s clearly a plan. Not one I would have thought up.. but a plan none the less.
This idea that God has a plan has become so central to my life that every place I see it like this jumps out at me.
God has a plan!
One thing that helps me with the really hard things that happen is knowing that all this foggy stuff I see that appears as chaos is completely transparent to God. While I’m wringing my hands.. He’s saying “ trust Me.. i’ve got this “!
God has a plan.. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ.. it will look like chaos a lot of the time.. to me, but not to Him. He is working this stuff all out.
I trust Him because I know Him. He is good!
“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”)”. Matthew 1:18-23 msg
I’ve heard it said that a sign of leadership is “you have followers” or something close to that. So in that regard, Jesus is a leader but so is Miley Cryus and the late Osama Bin laden. So I guess there are a lot of leaders, maybe everyone is a leader in some way. Even children lead each other.
I have a lot of leadership books on my book shelves. I have attended many conferences that were in large part leadership oriented. There is a lot of good practical direction in most of them. I have a goodly number of “catchy quotes” highlighted in the training materials associated with the books I purchased setting right beside each other on those shelves.
About 33 years ago or so I started a little business that with God’s blessing has kept our family fed. Somewhere in the middle of that I enjoyed a brief time of “successfulness”. People wanted to hear what I had to say. I built buildings.. hired people, fired people, flew around on jet airplanes …etc. It went straight to my head. In hindsight I’m not surprised. I was following the model of leadership presented to me my entire life. Which brings me to beginning point and reason for this little blog.
We are all leaders… we are all followers… so the real questions are ” who are you leading ?” and ”who are you following ? ” and why…?
More to follow very soon..
“Clean House ” 1 Peter 2:1-3
When I was a child, my mother had a practice on Saturday mornings of opening up the house.. doors and windows and “air it out “. This was a terrible way to wake up in January. She was a cleaner. I awoke early to the sound of a vacuum cleaner banging into my bedroom door. She would open my door and the flood of cold air would fill my room. I would retreat and hide under the covers.
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. (1 Peter 2:1-3 MSG)
At first glance, this looks a lot like a self help, motivational proclamation. I have shelves full of self help books I’ve collected over the years. Most of them do little more than help me put better language to describing my weakness’s.
This is different.
When I read this passage in “The Message bible ” I paused and asked God ” so what does this really mean ?” I believe He unpacked this for me a bit.
“So” Here is what proceeded the “So “: Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said, The old life is a grass life, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers; Grass dries up, flowers droop, God’s Word goes on and on forever. This is the Word that conceived the new life in you. (1 Peter 1:22-25 MSG)
Peter is talking to new Christ followers. In relative terms.. I think thats all of us.
” So clean house ! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. ”
Malice – The desire or intention to do evil or ill will..
Pretense – An attempt to make something that is not the case appear true..
Envy – A resentful longing aroused by someones else’s property or qualities…
Hurtful talk – Causing distress to someones feelings and reputation with words…
My mental image of the clean house starts with opening the curtains, windows and doors allowing both light and air into the room… Now you can see what you are dealing with.. A much clearer picture of the “task at hand”. Move the furniture around and an even more detailed picture comes into view. This is where things start to get ugly. I think Peter is assisting his readers by providing them ( and us ) with “the list “of what they are likely to find under the rug that hasn’t been moved in some time.
I remember a line from a Dan Fogelberg song in the 70′s: “When faced with the past, even the strongest man cries”.
“The list” is not how we want to see in ourselves… in the glaring sunlight we are exposed.. we want to do the exact same thing Adam and Eve did… run and hide!
Peter wisely doesn’t belabor the point. He quickly reminds them of a very important truth.. lest they lose heart in condemnation. And to coax them out from hiding.
“You’ve had a taste of God ! ”
Could there be a more reassuring word ? When you have been forced to see yourself.. naked and vulnerable internally.. Peter is introducing the solution to their dilemma in the same breath.
Yes, your house is filthy.. but their is someone who will help you clean it. And not just a surface ” sponge bath ” but a complete renovation ! Peter is acknowledging that his readers have just begun. They’ve had ” A taste “.. Just a sip..
Now Peter introduces the 12 step plan with guaranteed results for 6 payments of $29.95. Just kidding Kinda.. This is often what people get told / sold .. it’s not true. ( another topic for another day )
What Peter tells them is the core of discipleship and relationship with God !!!
“Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.”
I am hard-pressed to find more intimate imagery in the bible. We are like infants nursing at our mothers breast. Infants are completely dependent and helpless. I think women get this image quicker than men do. Most men I know hate to appear weak in any way, much less to be as as vulnerable as an infant. They also find it difficult to receive God in such a clearly feminine depiction even though the bible clearly teaches that He created ” man and woman ” in His image. Male and female.
The life giving instruction continues… “drink deep “. This is surely said to contrast his earlier comment ” you’ve had a taste “. Peter is telling them.. there is more .. much more !
“Drink Deep of God’s pure kindness”. This should bring pause to all of us… This is the core. Peter knew his readers lives were a mess just like he knows our lives are a mess in some way or another. He also knows their is only one solution and it’s a person. God is a person. He proved it when He showed up in person form as Jesus. Babies nurse from their mother. We are meant to be nurtured in relationship.. which means continual communication with our Heavenly Father. In this context.. it’s one on one.. “as a baby at the breast “.. receiving from Him who is “pure kindness “. Peter wanted his readers to know something about this God he is calling them to be intimate with. He is safe and so much more ! His readers had grown up under oppressive religion ( we have our own version ) and it was important that they begin to have that false image of the angry God, eager for judgment dispelled.
And then, the promise: ”Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.”
Peter abandons the metaphor.. He tells his readers what they are longing to hear.. you will finally be healed of the diseases displayed in ” the list ”. The ones that plague us all. The disease no program or course can ever conquer. Only He who created us knows us well enough to recreate us. He recreates us at His breast.. and nowhere else.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.
Hebrews 2:1-4 ” It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. ” The message bible..
Paul knew what God knows about us. We tend to drift. It’s seems to be an inherent weakness and often assisted by external forces. The instructions: “keep a firm grip”, my reply: how? If by nature I drift, then where will I find this “firm grip”. The instructions in themselves creates a little irony but does correctly identify our condition. My heart tells me the answer. The Holy Spirit does in us what we cannot do for ourselves. Empowering us, enabling us to stand when we would otherwise fall.
Practically speaking, prayer.. turning our hearts toward God, seeking Him in ernest humility as a person and not an institution. It’s the cry of our hearts: Jesus save me and keep saving me. The “firm grip” looks a lot more like the outstretched arms of a child who is begging to be picked up. A bowed head and heart in a quiet room or lonely woods. It’s says: I cannot do this myself. I cannot stand by myself. This is the truest cry of faith. Father help me.
Paul goes on to identify ” what we’ve heard “, “the magnificent salvation” that was delivered “In Person” by Jesus. He is reminding the readers to rehearse what they have heard. Essentially to preach The Gospel of Christ to themselves. Be in a constant state of remembrance of this incredible story. When we obey these instructions and rehearse these truths they become an antidote to the steady stream of poisonous insanity that is ever present in the world we live in.
“Neglect”. Paul warns us not to neglect the message. “Neglect” brings to mind a once adored object of affection and attention that now has become just another thing buried in the closet and later to end up on the garage sale table being sold for twenty five cents. In the beginning the item may have been expensive and captivating but now it’s ignored and possibly viewed as “out of date -out of style”. Human nature.. our affections peak and fade. We look for something new.
“In Person”. A disturbing reality every person faces is change. Nearly everyone has been a part of something exciting and felt like this is it, I have finally found “it”. “It” being a group of friends, a club, a hobby, a church, a team, a family, a location.. the list is endless… We want to freeze time and space and say.. “I don’t ever want this to change “. You try and hold on. Then, slowly or abruptly something changes. It happens to everyone. Loss. We hate to experience loss.
Jesus, shows up “In Person” with a different message for humanity. He says ” I am the same yesterday, today and tomorrow !” “I never change”. It’s not a new club to sign up for. No tuition. No private invite to an elite social group. He shows up “In Person” which can mean: present now and also in our human form, with the best story ever. This story never ends ! It’s so against the normal human experience that it’s nearly impossible to believe. It’s outrageous. Then He validates His own message with historical evidence thats impossible to deny. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. All who come to Him are healed. And finally He rises from the dead!
This is the story we all want to believe, and anyone who wants in the story, is in. There is little wonder why all those people who said yes to “the story” first were people of great loss. Those who’s hopes and dreams were dashed into pieces by devastating circumstances and irrevocable human loss. Jesus brought them hope. That life could be life again. That sorrow could become joy. That sadness would be driven to extinction. That unmet hunger for lasting love and relationships full of meaning would be eternally satisfied.
Yes, hold on with a firm grip to the story Jesus is telling us. Don’t drift. This is the only story without end.